Last weekend, Moscow hosted rallies of protest, with the opposition’s Party of Popular Freedom, Left Front, and
Other Russia performing on Pushkin Square while the nationalists acted on Bolotnaya Square, mostly under stop-feeding-the-Caucasus slogans. Among the protesters on Bolotnaya Square were members of the Russian People’s Movement (Russian acronym ROD), Russian People’s Union (RGS), Moscow Defense League, and Slavic Union. Incidentally, a day prior to the rally, the Slavic Union’s leader Dmitry Dyomushkin found himself under criminal prosecution, on charges of inciting [interethnic] enmity or discord. Activists of the Kremlin-controlled Young Russia tried to spread leaflets with cartoons portraying the key opposition figures. This didn’t work because the organizers didn’t want the whole affair to look extremist. The protesters marching to Bolotnaya Square were faced with a billboard reading that Ziga Zaga [a Nazi-like salute adopted by some of the fans. – Author] and waving United Russia banners were prohibited.
Early this fall, Russia’s nationalists launched a campaign under the slogan “Stop Feeding the Caucasus!” It was aimed against what they regarded as Moscow’s excessive funding of Russia’s southern republics, and the situation got so President Medvedev had to step in. During what turned out to be a scandalous talk show with young people at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Journalism, he said the authors of the slogan were provocative dimwits, adding that central budget appropriations allegedly being channeled into the republics in the Caucasus was a pack of lies: “We have 83 regions and only eleven aren’t receiving such subsidies.”
Vladimir Tor, head of Moscow’s branch of the currently outlawed Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), was the first to take the floor, starting with the habitual stuff about the North Caucasus existing at the expense of the rest of Russia’s taxpayers (contrary to Chechnya’s head of state, Ramzan Kadyrov’s previous statement, to the effect that they were getting their money from Allah). Tor insisted that federal authorities were to blame. This topic was reiterated by others who were given the floor; they also wanted to know exactly why central budget appropriations should be denied the republics in the North Caucasus.
“But they aren’t producing anything; they aren’t providing any services… Has any of you ever bought a TV-set made in Ingushetia or household appliances made in Dagestan?” the nationalist Krylov asked, gasping with emotion. Daniel Konstantinov, the leader of the Moscow Defense League, urged the rally participants to get prepared for a battle with “the new Golden Horde” led by Putin and his Eurasian Union.
As Alexei Navalny, Russia’s major blogger, author of the RosPill project, took the floor, he was greeted with the audience’s appreciative whistling and cheers. He said he didn’t want to allow gangsters from the North Caucasus to purchase limos or pay for foreign pop stars’ performances in Grozny. Those on the podium started chanting “Stop paying tribute!” and “Down with the arty of Crooks and Thieves!” that was quickly picked by the audience. There were shouts “Glory to Russia!” in the crowd. For Russia’s nationalists, the “party of crooks and thieves” means United Russia. “There are no laws of Russia effective in the Caucasus, yet this territory is kept alive using our taxpayers’ money. I say you vote for any party, come December 4, except that party of crooks and thieves,” declared Vladimir Milov, leader of the Democratic Union, in an interview. He told Nezavisimaya gazeta that President Medvedev’s remark was proof of falsehood: “Back there [in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan. – Ed.] the bud-get appropriations amount to 90 percent and over. They aren’t earning this money, they collect no taxes; this is something you won’t find in any other republics of the Russian Federation.”
Alexander Belov, ex-leader of Russia’s nationalistic Movement against Illegal Immigration, was present at the rally. He had avoided public appearances for a long while, after a trip to Chechnya and, back home, when he had made an ill-considered statement to the effect that Chechnya’s local authorities were showing a good performance. In the end, most of Russia’s nationalists condemned him as a traitor.
His presentation had nothing to do with the past sensitive experiences. The man broached an acute item on the agenda, shouting to the crowd: “Are you ready to take part in the Russian March? Will you walk out on the street if they ban it? Will you start marching?” The crowd roared its support.
The nationalistic organizations have applied to the Moscow authorities for the march to be held on November 4. Judging by the reaction of those present at the rally, Belov will be the new leader of the Russian nationalists, and that the rally on Bolotnaya Square, even though attended by about 400 persons, was a dress rehearsal of the Russian March.
Interestingly, while the nationalists are going to stage a rally in Moscow under the motto “Stop Feeding the Caucasus!” a similar rally will be held in Novosibirsk under the slogan “Stop Feeding Moscow!” According to human rights activist Varvara Pakhomenko (she recently returned from her native city of Tomsk), local bureaucrats have to spend months in Moscow to get budget appropriations for patching up Siberian infrastructures, and if and when they get them, they have to part with up to one-third as bribes for their counterparts in the Russian capital – and this considering that Siberia and the Far East add huge sums to the central budget in terms of energy resources, with the richest energy regions going below the poverty threshold. By way of comparison, Canada’s richest province is Alberta with its oil and gas fields. Small wonder that Siberia should be increasingly opposed to Moscow. Last year’s census registered the nationality of the Siberian urban and rural residents as “Siberian.” People in the Far East increasingly often recall that this region of Russia, back in 1920-22, was an independent body politic that was liquidated by the Bolsheviks using military force.
The organizers of Siberia’s “Stop Feeding Moscow!” rally said during a briefing that “as a result of the federal policy, the construction of new Metro stations has been suspended [in Novosibirsk. – Author]; the preparations for the autumn-winter season have been bungled; there are tens of thousands of children on the waiting lists of daycare centers; the health care and social protection networks are practically destroyed.”
They propose to keep the oil dollars in Siberia. In fact, this item was on the agenda of the Anti-Seliger-Novosibirsk forum that passed a resolution reading that Siberia can exist independently of Muscovy: “We can build our own free and democratic society ruled by law; let Moscow build its own, then we will consider the possibility of coexistence.”
There are blogs offering evidence that the idea of Siberia’s financial independence of Moscow is quite popular. Siberia’s separatist leaders offer two options: (a) Siberian Republic as part of the Russian Federation that will stop paying all federal taxes except the five-percent army relief one, and (b) withdrawal from the Russian Federation. Some of the bloggers say the slogan “Hands Off Siberian Oil!” may well serve as the national idea for Siberia. One of the visitors wrote: “The imperial paradigm will be ruthlessly destroyed by the current high communications technologies.”
Experts attribute the heightening of nationalistic activities in Russia to the start of the State Duma elections slated for December. Those currently in power are well aware that United Russia’s ratings are close to nil. The so-called administrative resource will, of course, secure this party’s victory, but this victory will not suffice; it will add dangerous risks to the power play. This victory won’t stop the nationalistic and separatist movements, with those in power having no national idea. The upgrading policy has somehow faded into the background, with a handful of individuals still believing that there will be a “single and undivided Russia.” In fact, most Russians are increasingly alarmed by the idea of a new union and/or single space, fearing that this will simply make them pay more taxes. It is safe to assume that such moods are prevalent there.
The Kremlin is trying to play the nationalist card, to emerge as a stabilizing force against the background of radical slogans and possible public unrest. In other words, the Russian electorate is intimidated by the possibility of some bad, even if vague, events, and that to prevent them they have to cast their ballots for the political party currently at the wheel, and that then nothing bad will happen.
This power play involves risks that are hard to forecast. After the counting of votes, the dragon of nationalism and xenophobia will not perish but become very much alive. Squeezing resources from Russia’s regions for Moscow’s benefit will step up separatism in the ethnic and purely Russian regions. If these trends combine, the 1917-18 phantom will materialize.